Scotland to get first private abortion clinic

SCOTLAND is to get its first private clinic specialising in "late-term" abortions because the NHS cannot cope with the hundreds of women requesting the controversial procedure.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is setting up the clinic to carry out abortions on hundreds of women right up to the legal limit of 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Last year 377 Scots women travelled to private and NHS hospitals in England for abortions, many of them at 18 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, because few Scottish hospitals carry out the procedure at such a late stage.

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Most cases involved women who wanted a termination for so-called social reasons where they did not want to give birth.

Scottish NHS boards send patients requesting a late-stage abortion to private clinics in England. One reason is that the procedure is highly specialised and few doctors are trained to carry it out. In other cases doctors are given the right to refuse to operate on moral grounds.

Instead, NHS boards pay up to 1,800 each for women to have late-stage abortions at clinics south of the border.

The revelation, which comes in the wake of a failed bid by MPs to relax Britain's abortion laws, has sparked furious opposition from the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.

The clinic – which is due to open next year – is likely to be located in Glasgow or central Scotland and will also accept women from Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, which carried out almost 200 late-stage abortions on Scottish women last year at its clinics in London and Doncaster, revealed there was a "huge unmet need" for the service, with more women referred for late-term abortions from its Glasgow-based counselling centre than from any of its 31 English referral centres.

Although late-stage abortion is controversial, those who back the move say women requesting terminations at such a late stage are often suffering from social, relationship and emotional problems as well as encountering NHS delays.

Furedi said: "Scotland has a very good early abortion service but once women get beyond 14 weeks it gets very difficult for them and this is a real issue that needs to be addressed."

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Anne Kane, chairwoman of Abortion Rights, said: "There are severe inconsistencies in accessing abortions and there are a lot of areas in Scotland where there are problems and that's unacceptable."

But a spokeswoman for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child said: "Instead of such clinics being opened, would it not be preferable to concentrate on helping women in crisis pregnancies address their fears in a way that allows their child to be born?"

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "All abortion is wrong. However, late-term abortion is particularly traumatic. The implication of a private company providing abortion in Scotland is alarming."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "In some Scottish boards, sufficient staff object to providing late terminations for social reasons that the board is unable to directly provide care. In other cases, boards may not have staff with the experience and skills needed to perform later terminations.

"In these circumstances the board provides advice and counselling, which may include referral to another NHS board or to BPAS for NHS funded treatment. All NHS boards will provide late terminations where there is a significant foetal abnormality."

• The most senior Roman Catholic in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, lambasted politicians at a conference of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children yesterday. He said: "The harsh reality is that the noble words of so many high blown declarations have been matched with a barbaric indifference to the rights of the unborn."